Vicar's Sermon

Sermon preached by the Rev'd Fr. Donald L. Turner, Vicar, St. Peter's-at-the-Light Episcopal Church, Barnegat Light, New Jersey, June 16, 2019 (Trinity Sunday - Year C).

St. John 16: 12-15

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I envisioned three possible avenues of approach to preaching about the Trinity on this Trinity Sunday, 2019. Number one. Finally yielding to the temptation to commemorate a secular holiday! I could celebrate fathers on this third Sunday in June, traditionally Father’s Day, and avoid having to deal with the Trinity altogether! But that wouldn’t work, I reasoned, because it only seemed right, if I did that, to give you an historical sketch of the origin of the day, and I was surprised to discover that the idea of creating a special day for fathers, as had already been established for mothers, was not without national controversy! So much so that from the time the idea first emerged in 1910 in the mind of one Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington, until it was finally declared a national day of recognition, 62 years had passed! I needed a safer excuse for avoiding a sermon on the Trinity!

Number two. I could put the icon of the Trinity, written by Andrei Rublev — we say, by the way, that icons are "written," not painted — in the bulletin, as Candy has done for us, and let the icon speak for itself. That might involve allowing you a few minutes to meditate on it in silence, and then we’d move on to the Eucharist, and thus shorten the Mass by 10 to 12 minutes. No sermon. That might have wide appeal, I reasoned, but I don’t think Rublev’s icon is self-explanatory.

Number three. (A “trinity” of approaches!) Put Rublev’s icon in the worship bulletin and address the iconographer’s message as best I could, with some outside help, obviously. That’s what I’m going to do. So, let’s look at the icon.

Rublev means for us to be in the presence of God while looking at this icon. He bases his icon on the story of Abraham found in Genesis 18, the first 15 verses. Here’s how the story begins:

The LORD (YAHWEH) appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre,
as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.

Notice it says that God, the One God, appeared to Abraham. Listen carefully to how the story unfolds.

He looked up and saw three men standing near him. (Trinity?)

In the typical response of Jewish hospitality, he rushes into the tent to tell his wife, Sarah, to prepare a meal. (But Abraham does his part, ladies!) Abraham “ran to the herd” to get a calf for the meal, asking his servants to prepare it. When the calf is prepared for eating, it is Abraham who serves it, along with some curds and milk that he himself has prepared, setting it before the three mysterious travelers.

In Rublev’s icon the figure on the left represents the Father, the one in the center is Jesus, and the remaining one is the Holy Spirit. They are all meant to have identical faces, the One God in three persona. Unfortunately, that Latin word has been translated "person," which creates confusion over the unity of the Trinity. In ancient Rome the persona was the mask a single actor would wear on the stage, changing masks throughout the play, in assuming different roles.

Notice that the center figure and the one on the right are facing the one on the left. God the Father “is the originating principle from whence all derives.” (Synthesis, Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019, p.2.) Notice the right hands of all three raised toward the chalice in consecration. The chalice contains the calf which has been “sacrificed,” as it were, for the meal. The calf signifies both Christ’s death on the cross, while at the same time its preparation as food, becomes the symbol of the Eucharist.

There is a thin staff in the hand of each figure, a symbol of their individual divine power. The rectangle on the front of the table symbolizes the cosmos. The Encyclopedia of Arts Education suggests that we see the spirituality of these three figures “as they sit in a state of motionless contemplation . . . with their eyes fixed on a world unknown to us, a world from which these spiritual creatures, visiting earth for a mere moment, draw breath.”

There is no logical explanation how one can be one and three at the same time. We can understand how our Muslim and Jewish friends feel that at best we worship a divided Godhead. We know that the Church took over 300 years to formulate a response to the question of the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in the final word the formulation, as it now appears for us in the Nicene Creed, perhaps for some raises more questions than it answers. Still, we know that there is a foundation for setting forth this relationship in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

What I find helpful is packed into this one word, relationship. I am not thinking of it now in terms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but with regard to our relationship to one another in the Godhead, that Unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One of the characteristics of the Trinity, in the thought of the Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie, is unity of Being. And the context of that unity is love, a love that, like a definition of the Trinity itself, defies adequate interpretation. We can use all the beautiful, positive adjectives that come to our imaginations, and still fall short, it seems to me, in calculating that Divine Love that brought all things to be. Yet, when are bound to each other in Christ Jesus, you and I are united to each other in that Love. If this is our only definition of the Holy Trinity, and we really believe it and strive to make it real in our lives and relationships, there would be no want of anything among any of God’s children!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Copies of Fr. Turner's sermons are always available each Sunday on the table in the rear of the Nave. He advises that you do not take a copy to follow him while he is preaching because he preaches from memory of the manuscript and often departs from the text, especially if he thinks of a good joke! Sermons are not lengthy. The Vicar had a Professor of Homiletics who told the class, "If you can't strike oil in ten minutes, quit boring!"